Love and Death by Marilyn Bardsley

I am willing to admit – but not apologize for –my prejudice. I am deeply prejudiced against one Ilich Ramirez Sanchez, better known as Carlos, Carlos the Jackal and everything he represents.

Playboy Carlos with his mother and sister
"Playboy" Carlos with his mother and sister

I wasn’t always prejudiced against him. When he burst into media consciousness in the early 1970’s, “Carlos the Jackal” had the dark glamour associated with being the most feared terrorist figure of that era: a suave playboy to boot, a kind of James Bond figure, hanging around embassy cocktail parties.  In the confusing social turmoil of the Vietnam War era, he could have been looked at, perhaps, as even a freedom fighter. After all, in the 1970’s and 1980’s, terrorism is something that didn’t happen in the United States.  Terrorism was remote: it happened thousands of miles away, to people we didn’t know and was abstract and unreal like a spy book or a movie.  Like most Americans, I really didn’t spend much time thinking about terrorism or Carlos, unless the New York Times or network news thought I should.

The next time I remember hearing about Carlos the Jackal was in 1972 when he organized the infamous murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics.  That sad event was also destined to fade from my consciousness until I realized that my school friend of many years, David Berger, was one of the victims.  He had left the comfortable cocoon of Shaker Heights, Ohio, to join the Israeli wrestling team. Why, I asked myself numbly, would anyone want to kill David Berger?  You couldn’t find a nicer guy.

Suddenly terrorism was not so abstract and death had the familiar face of a friend my own age. Never again would I confuse Carlos with some glamorous freedom fighter.

I didn’t give a thought to Carlos for the next 25 years, when I heard that he had been caught in 1997.  I was momentarily pleased and then put him completely out of my mind. 

Sketch: Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka Carlos) in 1997
Sketch of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (aka Carlos) in 1997

Now, I read in the Wall Street Journal that the 52-year-old imprisoned terrorist is getting married to Isabelle Coutant-Peyre, his 48-year-old lawyer.  She describes him as “an exceptionally warm man.” The subheadlines intrigued me, “In Prison in Paris, the Terrorist, and Isabelle Coutant-Peyre Share Love, Cigars and Marxism.” I read on with interest.  Had this cold-blooded murderer of young athletes and scores of others mellowed with age?  I supposed that several years in prison allowed for much self-analysis and introspection.  I read on that he had converted to Islam in 1975, which seemed to support my initial thought that this bad man had repented and made peace with his god.

I began to think that was also good, despite the image of David Berger that floated into my consciousness.  Then I read how this “exceptionally warm man” condoned the September 11 terrorist attacks and sent a letter to a Venezuelan newspaper claiming that the victims of the attacks were “nearly all enemy soldiers,” something that I had not appreciated as I watched the families of these “enemy soldiers” on CNN in their most desolate hours.

recent photo of Carlos
Recent photo of Carlos

As I marveled at how the Jackal’s bride could reconcile her tender vision of him with his exultation at the murder of so many innocents, she answered my question.  She understands that Carlos has killed many people, but that’s okay, because she and he both believe in the communist ideal. I had never really thought of terrorism as a set of ideals.

Isabella Coutant-Peyre

How fortunate for Isabelle and her chubby terrorist that he was convicted in France, a sophisticated society that allows him – presumably with the approval of the French taxpayers --to spend the rest of his life smoking Cuban cigars, cuddling with Isabelle (whose heterosexual competition in prison for his affections is limited), chatting with her at his whim outside the normal prison constraints on visitors, and commending the enemies of his captors.  Had he been convicted in a society less sophisticated and less tolerant of murderers, he might have ended up on a prison gurney with a powerful IV. 

But even the French, with their traditional soft spot for {l’amour}, are balking at this marriage.  The Paris prosecutor’s office is investigating whether the Jackal’s inflammatory remarks constitute a justification of terrorism, which is a crime in France. 

Jean-Louis Bruguiere, the prominent counter-terrorist expert who put Carlos away, is convinced that the Jackal is manipulating Isabelle as he has so many women in the past.

The Wall St. Journal cites the example of Carlos’ relationship with his current wife, Magdalena Kopp, a former member of the Baader-Meinhoff Gang also known as the Red Army Faction:

When she was arrested carrying explosives in France in 1982, [Carlos] organized a string of deadly bombings to pressure the French government to release her. After she was set free in 1985, the couple had a daughter and eventually married.

Carlos, Magdalena and child
Carlos, Magdalena and child

Magdalena’s current view of her husband (“a meglomaniac madman” who “killed without blinking”) is more consistent with the Western World’s view of him.

Recent photo of Isabella
Recent photo of Isabella (CORBIS)

My admittedly prejudiced view of Carlos is that he is a thoroughly evil man, who has manipulated the French government into serving his needs and the needs of his lady friends. And by doing so, he has escaped the punishment he deserves.  Far from opposing his marriage to Isabelle, I believe it should go forward – but only if they are allowed to live together in conjugal bliss in an 8X8 prison cell for the rest of their lives.

1. First Strike

2. A Born Revolutionary

3. A Terrorist In Training

4. Mother Russia

5. A Popular Choice

6. Black September

7. Our Man In London

8. Carnage

9. Wrath of God

10. Campaign

11. Betrayal

12. "The Famous Carlos"

13. Terrorist For Hire

14. New Beginnings

15. One Man's War

16. Hunting The Jackal

17. A Fall From Grace

18. Taken By Force

19. Trials And Tribulations

20. Love and Death

21. Bibliography

22. The Author

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